A recent study conducted by noted child psychologist and University of Chicago Professor Margaret Beale Spencer, confirmed again that stereotypes, more specifically, anti-black color phobia, are still very much alive and well. Researchers found that pre-teen white kids had an overwhelming penchant for associating white skin, namely theirs, with anything positive. The blacker the skin, the more likely they were to associate it with anything negative.
The study, commissioned by CNN, duplicated the famed 1947 study conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in which black and white children were asked to select white or black dolls as their play preference. Though CNN was careful to note that the study was not a controlled scientific study, there’s no reason to doubt its painful validity. Variations on the Clark’s tests have been conducted through the years. They’ve all found the same thing: black children given the choice of playing with white and black dolls choose white dolls, and the whiter and blonder the doll, the more likely they’ll choose them.
NAACP attorneys used the Clark’s test as the cornerstone of their court fight to dump legal school segregation. The attorneys chalked up a litany of social and psychic ills in young blacks, including low self-esteem, self-hate, and a profound sense of inferiority, to anti-black color phobia. The Supreme Court under Earl Warren agreed and unanimously outlawed school desegregation in its 1954 <i>Brown v. Board</i> decision. The Clark’s test and its many clones over time are not relics of past racial thinking.
Polls and surveys have pretty much found that many whites still cling to the ancient anti-black stereotypes. In 2003, Penn State University researchers conducted a widely noted study on the tie between crime and public perceptions of who is most likely to commit crime. The study found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of blacks with violent crime. There was, however, a mild surprise in the Penn State study. It found that even when blacks didn’t commit a specific crime, whites still misidentified the perpetrator as an African American.
A 2008 study by a team of researchers from several top universities found that much of the public still perceived that those most likely to commit crimes were poor, jobless and black. The surprise was that the negative racial stereotypes also applied to anyone, no matter their color, who was poor and jobless. If a white committed a crime, the odds were that the respondents would reclassify that person as black.
The jumbled mental contortions that many go through to dub a white person black solely on the basis of income and whether they have been jailed didn’t end there. If a person who was perceived as white was jailed, that person was still perceived to be black even after their release. The study did more than affirm that race and poverty and crime are firmly linked in the public mind. It also showed that once the stereotype is planted, it’s virtually impossible to root out. That’s hardly new either.
Obama’s election didn’t change that. Polls clearly showed that a crushing majority of whites not only said that they would vote for an African American for president and that color was not a consideration in how they viewed and voted for a candidate. But an AP-Yahoo poll on election eve in 2008 also found that public attitudes on crime and race were unchanged. The majority of whites still overwhelmingly fingered blacks as the most likely to commit crimes, even when they didn’t commit them.
Obama’s victory was as much a personal triumph for him as it was a strong signal that stereotypes were a thing of the past. His win did not radically remap racial perceptions, let alone put an end to racial stereotyping. That’s been painfully clear in the months since the election. The casual and lax racial caricatures, depiction, ridicule, and typecasting of Obama and Michelle Obama on blogs, websites, and at tea party rallies, often with the most lurid and grotesque race-baiting signs and thinly veiled racial code words, is ample proof that racial stereotyping is still deeply embedded in the pysches of far too many whites.
Even more troubling, when the offenders are called on the carpet for fanning stereotypes many either slough off the critics or defend the racial typecasting with the lame retort that Democrats relentlessly and viciously pilloried Bush, too. They did, but not with racial stereotypes.
The CNN study is hardly the revelation of the ages on racial stereotypes. Yet, it still has value in again reminding whites and blacks that racial stereotyping is anything but dead in America.
<i>Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinsonForeign Policy.</i>